DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 with SaM Roberts , broken social Scene , Sloan , Arcade Fire , the Constantines , the stills and pilate at Olympic Island, Saturday (August 7). $29.50-$35.50 (plus $5 ferry charge). 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Ever since Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler began playing together as Death from Above, there was never any intention of confining their ruckus-raising shenanigans to the Toronto area or even Canada.
So when news of a disturbance at the Canadian embassy in Tokyo began to circulate, it wasn't the least bit shocking to discover that Grainger and Keeler were somehow implicated. The real surprise is that someone connected with the Canadian consulate was daring enough to hire the thrash-happy attack unit as the "entertainment" at a chi-chi soirée. You just know the assembled foreign dignitaries and Japanese business executives had no idea what sort of sonic assault was about to come roaring their way.
"When we showed up for our sound check, it turned out to be this giant-sized granite and glass room filled with a strange mix of cool Tokyo people and corporate CEOs," chuckles Grainger over the phone from Melbourne.
"There was no discussion about the stage set-up, microphones or any of that stuff. Right off the bat the liaison guy was, like, 'You can't play at your usual show volume. My job is on the line.' It was kinda hilarious."
Considering the situation, any band would accede to the request and turn it down maybe to 9, right? Well, most would.
"Nah, we gave them our regular set at our regular volume," says Grainger. "Hey, you invite a notoriously loud band to play at the Canadian embassy in Japan and somebody's bound to get fired - it's inevitable.
"I think it went pretty well. At least I didn't see anyone with hands over their ears running away."
It's precisely that uncompromising streak that makes the group's recent name alteration, which has them adding "1979" to their Death from Above handle for legal reasons, so unexpected.
Slapped with a cease-and-desist order by New York record label DFA (an acronym for Death from Above), Grainger and Keeler decided that despite the fact that they'd been recording and playing shows under the name for three years, and DFA is a record company-slash-production team, not a performing entity, it was wiser to change the name than face litigation right before releasing a new album.
Surely, they couldn't have been bullied into the name switch by the likes of James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy, who put out records by the Rapture, LCD Soundsystems and Black Dice? There's got to be more to the story.
"We were getting ready to launch our new record in Canada and the U.S. when they sent the cease-and-desist order to our record label, Vice. Because Vice's parent company, Atlantic, has a policy of not releasing albums by artists who have legal action pending, we decided it was best to try to resolve it. But in order to have the order lifted, we had to pacify the DFA label people. They held all the cards.
"We've worked hard under the name Death from Above for the past three years, so we were hoping to keep the name or some slight variation of it," explains Grainger. "Our initial plan was to try renaming the band the Real Death from Above, but they didn't like that idea."
If they'd really wanted to fuck with DFA, they could've tried calling themselves Death from Above NYC.
"'Yeah, we tried that, but it didn't work either."
Eventually, they hit on Death from Above 1979, referring to the year of Grainger's birth (already tattooed on his forearm), which appears to have satisfied the DFA label's legal team. It paves the way for a September release of their pulverizing new disc, You're A Woman, I'm A Machine (Last Gang/Universal), initially set to drop August 3.
"I think they might've settled for the 1979 because so many people were posting stuff to our Web site and their Web site asking what all the fuss was about," says Grainger.
"There really hasn't been any confusion in the past. I mean, we did have a show where a couple of people in black turtlenecks showed up saying, 'When is the Rapture playing?' but that only happened once."